Maternal mortality in Africa

May 25, 2009

An article this weekend in the New York Times discusses the high rate of maternal deaths in Africa. One of the reasons, which is not mentioned in the story, for high maternal deaths in Africa is complications arising from botched unsafe abortions.

In southern Africa, no country except South Africa provides for the right to terminate a pregnancy. Every other country in the region legally limits access to abortions. Legal restrictions on a woman’s ability to terminate pregnancy ranges from Zambia where women can legally obtain an abortion in cases where there is a risk to the mother’s life, to preserve mental or physical health, fetal impairment, and socio-economic reasons to Malawi where termination is only permitted when a mother’s life is at risk But even in countries where termination is permitted for a variety of reasons, access to termination remains restricted, leading most poor women to seek unsafe terminations.

This not only raises the number of maternal deaths, but also places an additional burden on public health systems that end up treating women who have received unsafe abortions. Maybe if the funds spent treating women who are victims of unsafe abortion were freed up through legalization of termination, we could actually spend them on training more ob/gyns.

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